What is Diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, which is a hormone that is essential to the body’s ability to convert, use and store energy. Insufficient insulin results in elevated blood sugar levels. There are two major types of diabetes.
Type I Diabetes used to be referred to as “juvenile diabetes”, however Type I diabetes can develop at any age from childhood to adulthood. It is more common in children five years or older, but can also be found in younger children. Type I diabetes is an auto-immune disorder, which means that the body’s immune system turns against the pancreas. Eating sugar or gaining weight does not cause Type I diabetes. People with Type I diabetes must be treated with insulin, as their body cannot produce it.
Type II Diabetes was once referred to as “adult on-set” diabetes. Genetics and lifestyle both play a role in the development of Type II diabetes. If there is a family history of Type II diabetes, this does not mean a person will automatically develop the disease, but that there is an increased likelihood. Lifestyle contributes to this disease and is the most controllable risk factor. This type of diabetes is increasingly seen among children as well as adults. The increase in childhood obesity puts children at a higher risk of developing Type II diabetes.
Diabetes Warning Signs
If you are concerned about your child and possible signs of pediatric diabetes, pay close attention to any of the following symptoms.
- Increased Thirst: No amount of drinking seems to quench your thirst.
- Increased Urination: This is related to excessive fluid intake and to the body’s attempt to rid the excess blood sugar through urination
- Night time urination: Either through waking to urinate or possible bedwetting (as a new symptom)
- Increased Appetite: Because the muscles are not getting the energy they need due to the insulin resistance, they send hunger signals in an attempt to get the energy they need.
- Fatigue: The body is not getting the energy it needs from the food you’re eating, resulting in fatigue
- Infections: Type II diabetes makes it harder for your body to fight off infections. Women may experience more yeast and bladder infections. Bacteria flourish where there are high levels of glucose.
- Blurry Vision: As the body tries to reduce the blood glucose levels, fluid may be pulled from the eyes, resulting in blurred vision
Diabetes is a serious concern and parents have a major impact on the prevention of Type II diabetes in the whole family. By implementing and sustaining some healthy lifestyle practices, everyone in the family benefits. A few simple prevention steps:
- Reduce Portion Sizes: Use smaller plates. Measure your food until you understand what a real portion looks like.
- Eat Healthier Foods: Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store for foods that are less processed. Incorporate grains, vegetables, fruits and lean protein into the diet.
- Exercise: Engaging in some form of exercise for 30-60 minutes every day. This can be broken down into 10 minute increments, if needed. There are many products available to help track your steps and activity progress daily.
- Get to and maintain a healthy weight: Know your current weight and your healthy goal weight. Measure your progress to keep on track. Consider having a weight loss buddy to maintain accountability.
- Eliminate sugar-added beverages: Soft drinks offer no nutritional benefits and can be a major factor in obesity. When thirsty, drink water.
- Reduce Screen Time: No more than two hours of screen time for entertainment per day.
Small changes can create substantial results! Get the whole family involved and everyone benefits.
Children who are overweight or obese are at risk of many illnesses including diabetes. If you suspect that your child shows any signs of pediatric diabetes, take them to your pediatrician for a thorough assessment. There are also many resources available to help your child grow into a healthy adult.